So my visit ALT-C was slightly shorter this year. Bringing the conference forward clashed with a significant milestone in our house so while enjoyable I needed to leave after two days. I felt quite positive about ALT-C in terms of the programme. The quality of the presentations was good and while, as always, there is never enough time for debate, there was a good atmosphere. There were some interesting discussions and clearly some concerns about impacts of certain policy decisions.
For me, I came away with two clear messages. We need to continue to invest in staff and ensure that they have the tools at their disposal to help with using technology in their learning and teaching. And secondly, support those who would lead, not necessarily in terms of being experts in TEL, but from module leaders through to senior management, we need to be thinking about enabling those leaders to navigate the myriad of issues that you face when looking to do something innovative or just different. Simon Kear put it quite succinctly in his discussion looking at electronic management assessment at Goldsmith’s. Whether staff like it or not, the eAssessment wall is coming and if they’re not prepared it’s going to hit them smack on. Rather robust but a fair assessment of what will be here in the next five years.
If there was a scenario where leadership and staff skills were going to needed to be at the forefront, it was Jeff Haywood’s opening keynote where he announced Edinburgh’s ambitious plans to have a core unit/module in every course fully online by 2020. Such a plan will mean a significant investment in staff and a radical overhaul of curriculum for some. On the plus side, timetabling might be a little easier and with the cap coming off student numbers in a short time, Edinburgh’s decision to go fully online may also be born out of a projected necessity. How those leaders choose to move forward with those plans interests me and Catherine Cronin gave an inspirational keynote on Tuesday about one way in which to tackle that with her engaging talk about openness and our perceptions on what it means to be open.
This particular keynote struck a chord with me, as it appeared to do with many in the lecture hall. Catherine asked some challenging questions for us as educators about how open we are with our students and how being open addresses thepower dynamics between educator and student. I’m interested in what it may mean for our leaders. The panel discussion on TEL leadership across the globe focused on the differences in leadership in different localities and the need for succession planning. There was less discussion on management style and ways leaders, at any level in an organisation, leading on TEL might be able to influence and impact on policies. Nor on enabling strategies to tackle our ongoing challenge of moving on from pockets of innovation to TEL being adopted at scale.
Finally, but certainly by no means least, this year the biennial UCISA TEL Survey report was published in time for ALT-C. My colleague, Richard Walker gave a quick overview of the report but 20 mins is no time to go over it in detail. A far more lively, and distinctly noisy discussion happened between the M25 and East Midlands Learning Technologists Groups where Julie Voce provided some comparative data. There were some clear and surprising differences between the groups not necessarily answered by looking at the demographic of the institutions represented. For example, there was a significant difference between the M25 and EMLT region when it came to ranking TEL Barriers. Interestingly, Lack of Incentives and Lack of academic staff commitment was ranked a high barrier for the M25 region but for the East Midlands it was much less so. Why would this be the case? I don’t have the answer but when the M25 LT group noted that the East Midlands group always have cakes or biscuits at their meetings, it was suggested that that in itself might be part of the answer. I’ll leave you to come to you own conclusions on that one.
So overall, a short but targeted ALT-C this year. Warwick University is a lovely campus but it was hard to get to and perhaps the conference venue wasn’t the best. Certainly the timing for the conference was a challenge this year being a week earlier. Next year it’s back in it’s usual time slot and back in Manchester. I might be able to join for the whole shebang next year.